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Who is exempt? These select groups of unvaccinated foreign travelers can enter the US (with additional requirements)

  • The United States is enforcing a new air travel system on Nov. 8.
  • The new travel rules require foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated before entering the U.S.
  • There are a few groups that are exempt from the vaccine requirement, including children under 18.

Thomas Rowland and his wife have spent days scouring the internet for more information on the new U.S. air travel system that goes into effect in less than two weeks.

Rowland, of Stockholm, Sweden, made plans to celebrate his birthday with a trip to Florida on Nov. 8 with his wife and 5-year-old son. The family has been planning and saving up for the trip for years, and Rowland said his son hasn’t been able to stop talking about Disney World or the beach. 

But after taking a look at the fine print on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website earlier this week, Rowland worried that he would have to postpone the vacation.

While the new travel rules laid out by the CDC said his son would be able to forego the vaccination requirement since he is under 18, they also said all unvaccinated travelers would need to quarantine seven days upon arrival.   

Thomas Rowland and his wife, Erica Granséll, and son Elton Granséll snap a selfie inside a Wyndham hotel lobby at Clearwater Beach, Florida on Dec. 9, 2019, during their last trip to the United States.

“(It’s a) a two and a half weeks vacation, so quarantine for seven days is not an option for us,” said Rowland, adding that he and his wife each received two doses of the Pfizer. “We're fine with that, but we would like to know and get exact, clear information. To us, it hasn't been that clear yet.” 

He's not the only traveler who was thrown off by the quarantine requirement. Travel forums and social media sites have been filled with travelers with unvaccinated kids wondering whether they'll need to quarantine upon arrival.

The CDC responded on Saturday when it released an amended order that said unvaccinated children under 18 will not need to quarantine but would still need to take a post-arrival test. 

What are the new entry requirements for unvaccinated foreign travelers?

Come Nov. 8, nearly all unvaccinated foreign nationals are going to have a hard time entering the United States. 

Nearly all. There are exceptions.

While most foreign nationals who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents will need to show proof of full vaccination before boarding a flight to the U.S., travelers who are under 18, have had an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, or citizens of countries with limited access to COVID-19 vaccines are among a select group that will be allowed to enter the U.S. unvaccinated. 

But there are trade-offs to avoiding the vaccine requirement: unvaccinated foreign nationals face additional testing requirements and many will need to quarantine upon arrival. Failing to do so can result in penalties and fines.

While most foreign nationals who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents will need to show proof of full vaccination before boarding a flight to visit the U.S., unvaccinated travelers who are under 18, have had an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine or citizens of countries with limited access to COVID-19 vaccines will be allowed to enter the U.S.

How can travelers prove that they are exempt?

Unvaccinated foreign nationals who can bypass the vaccine requirements to enter the U.S. must provide a document that details why they are exempt. The attestation document can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website. 

Unless they have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 90 days, these travelers must agree to be tested with a COVID-19 viral test three to five days after their arrival and self-quarantine a full seven days, even if their post-arrival test comes back negative. Unvaccinated children under 18 can skip the quarantine mandate.

The U.S. will accept nucleic acid amplification tests, such as a PCR test or antigen tests. 

From vaccines to testing:What travelers need to know before the new US travel system on Nov. 8

Unvaccinated travelers who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents must also agree to self-isolate if their post-arrival test is positive or if they develop COVID-19 symptoms. 

“By filling out and signing the form, those excepted, unvaccinated travelers are attesting to making arrangements for post-arrival testing and self-quarantine,” Shockey told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. 

Willfully falsifying this information can result in a maximum fine of $10,000 and/or up to five years of imprisonment. 

Shockey said the form applies only to exempted foreign nationals entering the U.S. 

Which travelers are exempt from the vaccine requirement?

Travelers under 18

Travelers under 18 do not need to be vaccinated to enter the U.S., but those 2 and older will still need to take a pre-departure coronavirus test. Children who are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult can test three days prior to departure, while children traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults will need to get tested within one day of departure. 

Unvaccinated children traveling with vaccinated adults do not need to quarantine but they will need to take a second coronavirus test three to five days after arrival.

Air passengers 2 and older will need to take a pre-departure coronavirus test to enter the U.S.

►Medical contraindication to COVID-19 vaccination

History of a negative reaction to COVID-19 vaccines, such as an immediate or severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or component of the COVID-19 vaccine, can exempt a traveler from the vaccine requirement.

These travelers will need to offer a signed letter from a licensed physician for airlines to review. 

US travel:New US international travel rules for COVID-19 have 'extremely limited' exceptions

This document can be submitted as a paper or digital copy, but must be signed and dated on official letterhead with the name, address and phone number of the physician and include details on the type of vaccine product received by the passenger and their medical condition. The letter must also include the passenger's full name and date of birth.  

The CDC says objections to the vaccination based on religions or moral convictions do not qualify for an exemption. 

Airlines can require a medical consultation by a third party at their own discretion.

Which countries have limited availability to COVID-19 vaccines?

Unvaccinated travelers living in nations with limited vaccine availability can enter the country, so long as they have a passport and a nonimmigrant visa that is not a B-1 business visa or B-2 tourism visa.  

As of Oct. 27, the countries the CDC considers to have limited COVID-19 vaccine availability (less than 10% of its population vaccinated):

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Armenia
  • Benin
  • Burundi
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Haiti
  • Iraq
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • Namibia
  • Nicaragua
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Solomon Islands
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • United Republic of Tanzania
  • Vanuatu
  • Yemen
  • Zambia

►Vaccine trial participants

Travelers who are participating in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials won’t have to show proof of vaccination to enter the U.S.

These travelers will need to prove their involvement in the trial with official documentation, such as a clinical trial letter, participant card or modified vaccination card. 

The documents must include the name of the vaccine product and the date it was received, and show that the traveler has received a full series of a nonplacebo COVID-19 qualifying vaccine candidate or a vaccine emergency use listed by the World Health Organization. The trial must be in or past the third phase with one of 12 qualifying vaccine candidates: 

  1. AstraZeneca
  2. Bharat Biotech, India
  3. CanSinoBIO
  4. Clover Biopharmaceuticals
  5. Johnson and Johnson/Janssen
  6. Moderna Biotech
  7. Novavax
  8. Pfizer-BioNTech
  9. Serum Institute of India (Covishield)
  10. Serum Institute of India (Covovax)
  11. Sinopharm/BIBP
  12. Sinovac

Humanitarian or emergency exception

Unvaccinated passengers with an official U.S. government letter saying they are exempt for humanitarian or emergency reasons can enter the country by air. 

►Members of the U.S. armed forces, their spouses 

Unvaccinated travelers with a U.S. military identification document that shows their status as a member of the armed forces are exempt from the vaccine requirements, along with their spouses. 

US travel:Unvaccinated Americans to face tighter COVID testing requirements in new US travel system

►Sea crew members with C-1 or D visas

Airline and aircraft operators traveling under a nonimmigrant visa with an official letter from their employer showing that their trip to the U.S. is required to operate a vessel departing from a U.S. seaport will be exempt from the vaccine requirements.

The CDC says objections to the vaccination based on religions or moral convictions do not qualify for an exemption.

►U.S. national interest exemption

Travelers can be exempt from the vaccine requirements with an official U.S. government letter. 

►What are the exemptions to the testing requirement?

There will also be testing accommodations for travelers who can prove they recently recovered from the coronavirus.

These travelers will need to show a positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before their flight's departure and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official saying they are cleared for travel.